If you’ve been reading a while, you might know a few things about me:
I currently work in tech
I have a lot of plants (and two cats)
I like to learn, and I like to write about what I learn
Over the summer, I mostly want to travel and relax in the sun and do athletic things. But come fall – although I still love the outdoors and much prefer being there to just about anything else – autumn is usually a time I want to try some new learning experiences!
This year, I look forward to a music production class, a UX research certification course, and re-learning to roller skate!
I’ve been lucky enough to learn a lot through my job – I was given time and support to learn the basics of Python; I got to take a female-specific financial literacy class; I’ve learned a lot about using the Adobe suite. In fact, my job is what made me want to persue a formal certification in UX (user experience). I’m always thankful for educational support, whether it be from a company, a family member, a friend, a partner, or whatever. And all this has inspired me to keep going, keep learning!
There is always something in the air in the forest.
There was something especially in the air in the forest this evening. Something slipped through my pores and stuck to my skin like sticky seed burrs. The slip-slide-splat of mud; the schmuck of boots on damp leaves; the gentle pushback of moss on the woodland ground; the lively wiggles of a snail on a chanterelle; the petrichor smell of raindrops plopping on foreheads looking up through the canopy.
Maybe it’s that I’ve been exhausted all day, from lack of sleep and stress. Maybe it’s that for the past 24 hours I’ve barely consumed a vegetable; I’ve subsisted on sauteed pierogis and a bag of tortilla chips, my stomach rebelling against the lack of non-beige foods. But something in the woods today hit a reset on me. I still feel bloated and tired and maybe a little sad, but there’s an air of hope that wasn’t there before my two-hour foraging and identification foray.
I’ve only just met chanterelle mushrooms by name for the first time today. Upon picking one I was greeted by an old friend – a little snail.
I love their near-translucent shells, their little slurping movements, the way they can retract a full antenna like it was never there. A form of life so different from our own! And a wonderful reminder of un-expectation all around us.
I have no photos of this other new friend, but it struck some sort of chord with me: ghost pipe, or Monotropa uniflora. In the pale blue light of an evening forest you can imagine the eeriness of a near-clear white, bell-shaped parasite emerging among the detritus. It feels like the fleshy cartilage of your ear, and it pokes out from the wet woodland network like a spirit. This is the kind of thing that wakes me from thoughts that I may be imaging a world all my own – I could never have come up with something like this.
It is the sensations of the forest that are the “something.” The giggling shock of reaching down for a mushroom and landing on a slimy slug; ethereal ghost pipe floating up from the see of greens and browns in your eyes; the uplifting tang of petrichor as it starts to storm. Every forest bath is an experience like little else in a modern day.
I’m posting this today because it’s been a rough week. I’m still going through post-vacation lack of motivation as well as some lovely PMS/PMDD symptoms. Plus a COVID scare, a bunch of open projects that I lack the motivation or energy to finish, and a huge veterinarian bill.
Plants I would love to welcome into my home:
❀ pink jelly bean
❀ cast iron, especially ‘Hoshi-zora’
❀ fig tree
Pink Jelly Bean (Sedum rubrotinctum)
I just learned about these little cuties, and I love a good fun-colored plant. I’ve grown the green version before – my dad cares for that plant now. I think these are relatively safe for cats, but I’ll do plenty more research before I pull the trigger and buy one of these succulents.
I’ve been looking into larger, easier-maintenance plants as I want to travel a lot and my roommate isn’t fantastic with plants (but she is great with my cats!). Cast iron plants appear to be the perfect specimen for a home with pets and myriad lighting situations. I especially adore the Hoshi-zora variety with it’s little star-like dotting.
Finally, the good ol’ fig tree. This is an Italian household favorite and something I’d love to grow – but outside, as it’s toxic to cats. And since I don’t have much of an outdoor space right now and inflation is higher than El Capitan, this is a pipe dream for now. (If you can’t tell, I’m in a mood today.)
Also, my wonderful boyfriend bought me this Lego bonsai and I am so pumped! Talk about low-maintenance house “plants”!
This beautiful but invasive vine is illegal to plant in many US states nowadays because of just how well it’s done invasively! In order to contain the damage, the law says not to try and cultivate it – it won’t be contained!
But, What Is an Invasive Species?
First, let’s talk niches. A niche, in biological terms, is an ecological opening in an environment that an organism fits into because of it’s morphology, behaviors, etcetera. If an organism moves to a new ecosystem and finds a niche it fits well – for example, a spotted lanternfly being carried to the eastern United States and finding plenty of un-contested food sources – it will proliferate in the ecosystem.
Next let’s consider: What makes an invasive species “invasive?” This can be a little difficult to answer.
Imagine three different spiders existing on a small island out in the middle of the sea somewhere.
Spider Number One sits on a leaf blown by wind into the open sea. Luckily for Spider Number One, the mainland isn’t too far off and she makes it there alive, finding the environment to be hospitable there.
Spider Number Two sneaks into some local folks’ canoe chasing after a juicy fly. Little does she know the canoe is taking off for the nearby mainland, and that’s where she ends up to spend the rest of her spidery days.
Spider Number Three decides she deserves a cruise vacation and crawls onto a ship docked on the island beach. Little does she know that ship will bring her to the mainland with no hope for return, but the ecosystem on the mainland works out for her and she moves right on in.
Which – if any of these – are invasive to the mainland?
It’s important to remember that “invasive species” is defined by humankind – meaning it’s colored by human priorities and perspectives. Organisms shift to new habitats all the time over the eons – that’s part of evolution. But when humans bring a species to a new location and it takes root there and disturbs the well-known balance in that ecosystem, we call that invasive.
It’s interesting to consider that humans have probably been re-distributing species since long before we had formal scientific biology or cruise ships. We’re animals, a part of nature just as much as the next organism.
We should also recognize that certain species, those we humans move to new ecosystems but that do not seem to disturb the ecosystem as we perceive it (and/or are useful to us) are dubbed naturalized species or simply non-native species. A good example of a naturalized species is White Man’s Footstep, or plantain.
What’s going on with the Spotted Lanternfly?
So why all the fuss over the spotted lanternfly the last few years? They’re significantly pesty to plants we know and love! “Spotted lanternfly has proven to be a serious pest of grapes (both cultivated and wild). Besides agricultural crops like hops, apples, peaches, and other tree fruits, they move into wooded and residential areas to feed on black walnut, maples, tulip poplar, and black cherry. Because of the copious amount of honeydew they produce, SLF has become a significant nuisance in residential areas, promoting the growth of sooty mildew and attracting other insects.” (Cornell College of Agricultural and Life Sciences).
Efforts have been made to curtail further spread and kill off already-existing invasive populations in the eastern US.
There is certainly merit to controlling spread of invasive species like the lanternfly, if only for our own good. Again, after all, we too are part of nature.
Spotted lanternfly has proven to be a serious pest of grapes…hops, apples, peaches, and other tree fruits…black walnut, maples, tulip poplar, and black cherry…a significant nuisance in residential areas, promoting the growth of sooty mildew and attracting other insects.
However, we should continue to question our views of how we as humans act in nature. We tend to separate ourselves as being above nature, adjacent to nature, having outgrown nature. We forget ourselves. And of course we cause problems that we have a responsibility to fix; I only hope we can be more conscious of our reasoning and of the shortcomings of our knowledge.
So what’s an invasive species?A species that has found a niche outside of the environment it was found in prior and disrupts that new environment. Basically. It’s a basic biology concept, but we’re naive in thinking life is basic at all!
Would you believe I’ve found another skull on the beach?
And this isn’t a remote beach in the off season. This is a beachgoers’ beach in the northeastern US, mid-season, not after any kind of storm.
At first I joke that finding all these skulls means I’m cursed; however as a biologist, I sort of feel blessed.
These creatures followed the path we all follow and I was lucky enough to witness the aftermath of their identities. Bones are beautiful.
You may remember the drum fish skull from my previous skull post. This skull seems similar to that one; however it still appeared to have some flesh on it and I was headed back from an evening run, so I didn’t pick it up. Sometimes it just feels right to let something to back to the sea.
I’m hoping to do a more in-depth post on this particular skull in the future. At the time, my only slightly-founded belief is another drum fish; I didn’t do any in-depth searching because I’m on vacation.
However I did bring home some beach treasures! Of particular interest to me are the bat-shaped thingamadoos you’ll see at the righthand end of my ruler here:
These things appear to be water chestnuts, likely of the species Trapa natans. (Please feel free to correct me!)
These fruits seem to fit the proper description. The most interesting part of them to me is the striping along the flattest plane, pictured at right in the fruit at the front.
These things look like alien pods.
If you were curious: these are light and mostly hollow, with something rattling about inside (the seed of the aquatic T. natans).
If I didn’t have wine-and-vacation-brain, I’d put some more thought into that. For now I’m just appreciating the strangeness of the morphology of life.
Speaking of morphology less directly related to the ocean – my latest artistic endeavor is making a pressed-flower collage of flora from my dad’s garden. I’m currently just pressing the flowers and leaves:
Sometimes looking at the beauty around us and considering our own depth of experience, I wonder if evolution is too simplified. The theory of it, I mean. Is our only push to pass on our genes? Is our only push to survive, to survive past our own consciousness in the consciousness of our closest genetic relatives? What evolutionary drive pushes us to pick up treasures by the sea? I wonder. I hope you wonder, too.
Thanks to our local herbalist Annie Fox and the herbalism walks our local parks host, I now know about the wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius).
Running by a steep cliff overtaken by plants of all shapes and sizes, I’m reached out to by the thorny arms of the wineberry. Reddish-brown and so thorn-covered as to look like a medieval weapon, most of the year the wineberry looks like nature’s “Keep Out” sign. But I know it will give precious mini-raspberries come the hottest days of summer, and so when I pass by post-jog I make sure to smile back at the plant. It waves back in the wind.
And then, yesterday, finally – I saw berries!
⚠️ Please DO NOT eat any part of a plant if you are not 100% sure what that plant is. Contact a local herbalist/ecologist/etc. if you are unsure. ⚠️
As a lovely post-run snack, I snagged a wineberry. Delicious! I’d say they have the flavor of a muted raspberry. They’re also smaller than your average raspberry, and less juicy. But tasty and lovely just the same.
R. phoenicolasius is not native to the northeastern United States, but you’ll find it quite often here – “from New England and eastern Canada south to North Carolina and west to Michigan and Tennessee,” according to invasive.org.
Let’s make an important distinction here. In common parlance, an invasive species is one that humans have brought to a new habitat. Generally, if a species outcompetes other species to a point near extinction, or does something else disastrous to the original ecology, it remains entitled an “invasive” species. However, some invasive species, like common plantain, play nice with native plants and come to be called naturalized species. At least some folks consider the wineberry in this second category.
Interestingly, it’s said that the wineberry plant is a voracious grower endangering other nearby plants – which I’m sure is true. However the way it grows in my local park, it just seems so in-tune with the rest of the landscape! It reaches out among the leaves and trunks of other plants as if to say “hello” and offer up tasty treats.
Interested to learn more about the wineberry? Check out the fact sheet below. Or, if you can, get out and meet some wineberry plants yourself!
I’ve started back up with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy lately, in addition to my ERP therapy directly for OCD. And it’s made me think about where and how I spend my energy, what feels good to me, and what energizes me. Thinking about how I start my days, I’ve come up with an energy hierarchy for myself:
The idea here is that the bottom tier takes the least energy and is the basis for doing the activities at the upper tiers. So, for example, I won’t have the energy to exercise or relax into cartoon watching if I don’t get out of bed and feed the cats first. (I’d like to mention that depending on the day, coffee fits under basic survival 🤪) Then if I spend a ton of time just sitting around and not exercising, I won’t feel much like working on a painting. And if I don’t spend time doing something creative and spending quality time with myself, I won’t feel like spending time with others.
I imagine everyone’s energetic hierarchies would look different; some people are energized by socializing, for example, whereas I like to socialize but it tires me out.
I’m happy to be able to know my current self in this way. I think it’ll not only help me prioritize my time & energy, but also help me pick myself up when I’m feeling low.
A couple of buoying experiences over the last two days:
I got to make a gorgeous geode tie-dye bandana & a tie-dyed vintage Social Distortion shirt
I ran a ~10 minute mile, finally
I had a doctor fight for me against my insurance company that didn’t want to pay for my meds anymore
I reached out to some new friends even though I was nervous
I met a really interesting and beautiful girl
I’m so grateful for these emotional buoys, as life’s been challenging the last month or so. But what I want to allow these experiences to do for me – and for you, readers! – is support me as I work through my own personal Species Loneliness.
What is Species Loneliness?
I first learned this term from the ever-wonderful Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer in her infamous book Braiding Sweetgrass. Basically, we as humans do not know our non-human neighbors. I saw Dr. Wall Kimmerer speak at my local library, and she mentioned that it’s been shown children nowadays can recognize dozens of corporate logos by name – but barely any plants or trees.
Now, I’m not a “should/shouldn’t” type of person. Worlds change. I’m not going to monologue on “children shouldn’t know corporate logos but they should know trees,” even though I do feel that way. What I believe specifically is that knowledge of our ecological neighbors, getting to know them and even befriend them, is a more wholesome existence than knowing where the nearest McDonald’s is or the history of the “golden arches.” I know that I at least feel better now that I recognize some of the plants out on my hiking trails.
What can we do about it?
Well, that’s easy, isn’t it? What do you do when you move somewhere and you don’t know anyone? You go meet some folks!
We can go out and meet members of other species, too. (Safely, of course. No one’s suggesting trying to shake a grizzly’s hand.)
So, what’s this project you’ve alluded to?
It’s really not anything major. Basically I want to introduce readers to as many plants from the northeastern United States (because that’s where I am) as I can! It’s like introducing two friends to one another. I think it’ll be nice.
Let’s make friends. Keep checking back for posts about our nonhuman neighbors! (They’ll be categorized as ‘Local Life Profiles’).
It’s the first day of summer and despite a beautiful sun-filled sky, warm breezy weather, and cloudless blue, I’m not feeling up to snuff. I’m feeling lethargic, down, and although lonely I have no desire to go converse with folks.
Days like this are…depressing. It’s like, I wake up looking out at a sunny morning world and feeling like it might all be alright today. And then by mid-afternoon I feel like a zombie. Not tired, persay, but energy-less.
I did this two weeks ago for different reasons, but this evening I’m going to try and smoke-out the stale energy from my room using a flower want I got from my friend’s herbalist shop. I love using her stuff because I know the love and care she puts not only into making her products but also gathering the ingredients for her products. You can feel the love and kind energy in an ethical harvest.
Routine & rituals are things I revere greatly but that I’ve had trouble focusing on lately. A simple energy cleanse is at least a simple ritual that helps me. I want to mention that I’ve found there are a few important things about spiritual rituals:
💐They make YOU feel something (i.e. they aren’t necessarily prescribed by a religion, governing body, etc.)
💐The practice aligns with your values (i.e. if you value sustainable living, you only use sustainabile items in your practice)
I’ve also found that sometimes I just have to be open to not feeling anything. I’ll usually wait around to practice a ritual until my mind feels steady and focused – which makes it really easy to fall out of the habit. And only when I’m regularly practicing rituals does my mind feel more steady and focused. It’s a vicious cycle. So I’m trying to get into that opposite action mindset and just do the thing that I put together to bring me joy or cleansing or feeling – even if doesn’t do so that day.
aLike, for example, I normally love a good walk in the woods. Usually it helps clear my mind and bring a smile to my face. But some days I don’t feel like it’s going to do anything and I have no momentum, so I just don’t go. And it’s fine to just sit around some days, but I do start to miss my woods walks! So, like today when I’m feeling down, I’m going to go in the woods even if it’s just for 10 minutes with my headphones in blasting a podcast to get my butt out the door! Rituals don’t have to be perfect. Like a small-venue concert where the guitarist forgets a chord, sometimes the imperfections make you smile the broadest.
And so I wish you all, readers, a day with joyful imperfections.
(1) Fill a container large enough that the entire air plant can be submerged with room-temperature water.
(2) Remove airplants from there regular pot and place them in bath. Make sure the tips remain as submerged as possible.
(3) Leave in water for 20 minutes.
(4) Remove from bath and place somewhere to dry, making sure roots are sat upward so that they can absolutely dry out.
Watering air plants is pretty simple, albeit different from how you might water most plants. There are two important things to remember, so I’ve been told and experienced: The tips dry out the easiest, and the roots will rot if they remain wet.
When placing my airplants in their bath, I try and position them so that the tips are as completely submerged as possible. This can be hard with plants that have the tips oriented in myriad directions. Keep in mind that regularly misting your air plants can be a helpful way to keep the tips from drying out.
Once their bath is over, it’s time for the air plants to dry out. The air in my apartment tends to be pretty dry but I still make sure they stay out of their regular pot and upside-down for a few hours.
The point of their being upside-down is that the roots are open to the air and can dry out well. Remember – it’s not as big a deal if those tips stay wet, but we don’t want root rot!
And that’s really it! I mist maybe once a week between waterings, especially if the weather’s been especially dry.
A bonus tip for y’all darling readers who made it this far:
Have a plant that’s struggling? Maybe it’s surviving, but not thriving? Needs new growth? Try white willow!
White willow releases a growth hormone (and is easy to propagate in just water, which is how I got my sapling). So when my original basil plant was super anemic and only very slowly/barely growing new stems and leaves, I gently pruned off two twigs from my sapling and placed them in the soil of my basil plant. And it looks so much less anemic! The new growth is green and proud, especially so on the side where the twigs are inserted:
I hope these tips help you cultivate your gardens!